Review: Contagion

This tense thriller about a deadly airborne disease starts ominously with a blank screen and the sound of someone coughing. From then on we see a few very sweaty, ill-looking people having seizures and dying. One of whom is *SPOILERS! SPOILERS!* Gwyneth Paltrow looking the worst she’s ever looked on film. This high-profile death means that any one of the all-star cast could bite the bullet, and she certainly won’t be the last.

Even the colour palette of  the film gives a sense of disease as there is a yellow-green tint in every scene; for an idea have a look at the poster above. The camera focusses on people touching surfaces and each other which really does get your brain thinking about who has been sitting on the seat you’re sitting on in the cinema before you, and what they might have which could infect you too. In fact both my girlfriend and I have suffered from colds recently; I still had a slight cough and Jo had the sneezes, which is probably why we were completely alone in our part of the room. No one sat within about ten metres of us for the entire film!

Meticulous research was obviously put into the writing of the script as the medical talk about SARS and H1N1 in the film is really in-depth. In fact the consultants helping the film makers worked in medical research and had worked on treatments for both of the aforementioned diseases. This gives the origins and the workings of the fictional disease in the film, dubbed MEV-1, a worryingly realistic edge that is truly unsettling.

What is more unsettling though is Jude Law’s character: a blogger who claims the government is lying about their cure for MEV-1 and says he has been taking a homeopathic remedy, namely forsythia, that has been keeping him healthy. As well as his questionable motives his dodgy Australian accent and snaggletooth should be enough to make you feel a little queasy. Another part of the film that really could have done with not being there was the role played by Marion Cotillard, who gets kidnapped by Chinese villagers while trying to research the outbreak there. The problem with this is that you never really feel that she’s in any real danger and the whole arc of that part of the plot feels a bit clunky and extraneous. But the rest of the narrative – involving Matt Damon trying to protect his daughter, and Laurence Fishburne,  Jennifer Ehle and Kate Winslet as the experts trying to contain and discover a vaccine – is all engaging.

The film itself has the feeling of a sci-fi B-movie in the sense that it is about an invisible assailant destroying the human race who can’t be stopped, much in the same category as ‘Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers’ or ’28 Days/Weeks Later’, but is apart from these in that it is much more narratively based as there are no monsters, aliens or zombies and, even better, no explosions or CG battle sequences. It is a film that has a story to tell that needs no gimmicks because it is based on something that could, quite plausibly, happen. In fact most of the experts think that we’re well overdue a pandemic of this nature.

Once you’ve seen this film you’ll never think the same way about door handles, surfaces and how many times you touch your face…

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